Animal fats linked to pancreatic cancer

In collaboration with the Press Association

Pancreatic cancer appears to be more common among people who consume high levels of fat, particularly of fats found in red meat and dairy products, US scientists have said.

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute analysed data collected on more than 500,000 people over six years during a large study called the National Institutes of Health - AARP Diet and Health Study.

Participants were asked to complete questionnaires to gather information on how often they ate various foods.


In the latest analysis, study participants were grouped according to the percentage of their daily energy that they obtained from fat. The researchers then looked at pancreatic cancer rates in each of the groups.

Analysis revealed that men and women who consumed the highest amounts of dietary fats were 53 per cent and 23 per cent more likely to develop pancreatic cancer, respectively, than those who only ate small amounts of fat.

When the scientists looked solely at saturated fat intake, people with the highest levels of consumption were 36 per cent more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than those with the lowest intakes.

Writing in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, the researchers suggested that animal-derived fats may play a role in the development of pancreatic cancer.

They observed "positive associations between pancreatic cancer and intakes of total, saturated and monounsaturated fat overall, particularly from red meat and dairy food sources".

In contrast, they "did not observe any consistent association with polyunsaturated or fat from plant food sources".

Writing in an accompanying editorial, Dr Brian Wolpin from the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Dr Meir Stampfer from the Harvard School of Public Health noted that there is not yet sufficient evidence to confirm the importance of animal fats in pancreatic cancer.

However, they noted that with further research, "this work has the potential to provide interesting clues to the mechanisms underlying pancreatic tumorigenesis".

Josephine Querido, Cancer Research UK's senior science information officer, commented: "This large study adds to the evidence that pancreatic cancer is more common in people who eat too much fat, particularly saturated fat. Understanding ways of reducing the risk of pancreatic cancer is very important because it can be very difficult to treat.

"Apart from stopping smoking, the best way to reduce your risk of cancer is to eat plenty of fruit, vegetables and fibre, and to cut down on fatty foods, red and processed meat and limit your intake of alcohol."


 Thiebaut, A., Jiao, L., Silverman, D., Cross, A., Thompson, F., Subar, A., Hollenbeck, A., Schatzkin, A., & Stolzenberg-Solomon, R. (2009). Dietary Fatty Acids and Pancreatic Cancer in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study JNCI Journal of the National Cancer Institute DOI: 10.1093/jnci/djp168